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U-Md. Driskell Center presents its perspective on African-American art post-1950

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Photo by Wanda Jackson. "Carpenters" is a limited-edition silkscreen work on paper by renowned artist Jacob Lawrence.

Photo by Wanda Jackson. "Carpenters" is a limited-edition silkscreen work on paper by renowned artist Jacob Lawrence.

Published on: Thursday, November 08, 2012

By Wanda Jackson

Walk through the current art exhibition at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, and you will find the works of renowned artists like Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and Sam Gilliam coupled with new visionaries including Chakaia Booker, Lorna Simpson and Kara Walker.

“African American Art Since 1950: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center,” open through mid-December, features 62 works that collectively reflect the growing prominence and complexity of the field of African-American art over the last 60 years. 

Robert Steele and Dorit Yaron, respectively the center’s former and current acting directors, selected the artists for their styles and subjects.

“African-American artists have been working in all media, including painting, print, video, sculpture and mixed media, explore many subjects such as the female body, black beauty, American history and slavery and nature, and work in many styles including representative, social realism and abstract,” Yaron said.

“More importantly, those works are often not included in the narrative of American art canon. They are not in books or talked about in classes,” Yaron added. “The center is making an effort to tell the story of African-American art and teaching about the contribution African-American artists have made to the field of American art.”

The exhibition, which is comprised primarily of works from the Driskell Center Permanent Art Collection, showcases the generation of artists who opened up the possibilities for African-American art, from pursuing pure abstraction to providing a forum for art as political activism.

The exhibition also presents select new voices in African-American art, which utilize a variety of media and possess a hybrid approach to cultural and social identity.

“We highlight artists who are operating in a forum where national and racial boundaries are not the primary focus of inspiration,” Yaron said.

Among those artists are Jefferson Pinder and Hank Willis Thomas.

Accompanying the exhibition is a must-see catalogue with essays that highlight the relationships among artists in the exhibition and the institutions that have impacted the field.

In her essay, “Notes on the Politics of Identity in African American Art,” independent scholar Adrienne L. Childs, “explores artists whose work is largely defined by postmodern identity politics, including race, memory, gender and history, as well as the importance of the body as a site of expression. Among these artists are Kevin Cole, Willie Cole, Margo Humphrey, Betye Saar, Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems.”

The catalogue also includes a “Foreword” by Professor David C. Driskell, along with a timeline of major events in African-American art since 1950 and color reproductions of all the works in the exhibition along with short artist biographies.

In his foreword, Driskell writes about the significance of the exhibition to the field of African-American art. It “brings forth a new insight into the meaning of this aspect of American art as it continues to highlight the social, cultural, and political visions of a growing creative community within modernism,” said Driskell.

For additional information about the exhibition, visit

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